GRIEVING families in west Dorset will face having to travel to say farewell to loved ones in the latest round of cost-cutting initiatives, the Echo can reveal.
Dorset County Council, which pays Dorset County Hospital for mortuary services, has terminated its contract in order to establish a single mortuary for the entire county in Boscombe.
There are fears that the move could prevent those who live to the far west of the county being able to visit their loved ones for a final time because of the distance.
It has provoked outrage amongst funeral directors, who say it will have a ‘distressing’ impact on grieving families.
A spokesman for the Wessex Funeral Directors Association, which represents independent funeral businesses in Dorset, said: “We feel Dorset County Council has not given any consideration to the welfare of the bereaved, who may find themselves having to travel vast distances to identify or visit their loved ones.”
He added that the mortuary and bereavement services team at DCH, which carries out 500 post-mortems a year, has a ‘very good record of compassion and efficiency’.
The spokesman added: “We feel that the move to Boscombe will not achieve more efficiency, quite the opposite in fact, and savings, if any, will be negligible.”
Dorchester town and West Dorset District Councillor Alistair Chisholm said the move would be ‘unfortunate and inconvenient’ for grieving families.
He added: “If it saves money then that is something we do need to look at, but relatives must have a right to see the body if they wish. It’s just another squeeze on public services.”
A hospital source said he was concerned about the announcement.
He said: “The mortuary service at DCH gives a lot to the community. It really helps some people to grieve, especially if the death was sudden.
“The staff do reconstruction work so the loved ones can see them for one last time. Will that service be available at the new location? It really raises a lot of worrying questions.”
It is understood that those who die on wards at DCH will remain in the mortuary there, but those who are brought in from the community in circumstances where post-mortems need to be carried out to find out the cause of death, will be taken to Boscombe.
Three jobs are believed to be at risk, although it is not known if the posts will be transferred to the new location.
Head of Legal and Democratic Services at Dorset County Council, Jonathan Mair: “As part of merging the East and West Dorset Coroners’ areas into one for the whole county, we are working in partnership with Bournemouth Borough Council and the Borough of Poole to use one purpose-built mortuary owned and run by Bournemouth Borough Council. We have therefore notified Dorset County Hospital that we will be terminating our existing mortuary services contract with them.”
Mr Mair said the merger grew from an ‘opportunity’ following the retirement of former West Dorset Coroner Michael Johnston and added that the move made ‘financial sense’.
He said: “The mortuary would never turn families away, but there is an encouragement for people to visit their loved ones at funeral homes rather than the mortuary because it is such a clinical environment.”
He added that the move is unlikely to affect where inquests will be held.
Council closes contract A spokesperson for Dorset County Hospital NHS Foundation Trust said: “We have been given notice by Dorset County Council that they are terminating their agreement with us for the provision of mortuary services.
“The council has made it clear that their decision to terminate the arrangement does not reflect any dissatisfaction with the quality of service provided by Dorset County Hospital NHS Foundation Trust.
“It is simply that there is a need to work more effectively and to achieve savings by working with the other local authorities with a shared responsibility for the coroner’s service in Dorset.
“We are currently looking at what this change will mean for the Trust.”